HomeMovies'Sound of Metal' Review: Riz Ahmed Drums Up a Career-Best Performance

‘Sound of Metal’ Review: Riz Ahmed Drums Up a Career-Best Performance

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Written by Michael Vacchiano

Over the past several years, the exceptionally talented Riz Ahmed has impressed in a variety projects. The British-Pakistani actor made his mark as Jake Gyllenhaal’s unwitting accomplice in the awesome indie thriller/drama, Nightcrawler. He’s also appeared in various big budget and franchise fare such as Rogue One, Venom, and Jason Bourne. The high point was playing a wrongly-jailed man in the acclaimed HBO miniseries The Night Of, where Ahmed won the Emmy award for Best Lead Actor – Limited Series. Regardless, it is with Amazon’s latest original movie, Sound of Metal, that Ahmed takes it to a whole new level. It is an emotional and thought-provoking experience that is buoyed by Ahmed’s incredible performance.

Ruben Stone (Ahmed) is a punk-metal drummer touring the country with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), who’s also the singer/guitarist for their band. Traveling from gig to gig in their modestly equipped caravan, the couple live a simple yet happy lifestyle on the road. But Ruben’s world abruptly comes crashing down like a proverbial cymbal when he begins to lose his hearing. Since he is a former heroin user who’s four years sober, Lou fears a possible relapse and immediately takes action. She brings him to a halfway house for other hearing-impaired addicts run by the kind yet straightforward Joe (Paul Raci). Upon being welcomed into his new community, Ruben must learn to cope with his sudden deafness and get his life back together.

With Sound of Metal, writer-director Darius Marder makes his excellent feature debut behind the camera. The film premiered at last year’s Telluride International Film Festival to great acclaim before Amazon secured the rights to stream it on Prime. Marder’s highest profile credit before this was co-writing 2012’s The Place Beyond the Pines with friend Derek Cianfrance. Here, he co-wrote the script with his brother Abraham. The resulting film is shot in such a gritty and intimate manner–almost documentary style–which feels appropriate considering the subject matter.

Despite its modest budget, Sound of Metal is also a fantastic technical achievement in the audio department. Composer/sound designer Nicolas Becker, whose sound work resume includes the award-winning Gravity and Arrival, deserves enormous praise. With the sound editing, the viewer is able to experience Ruben’s journey through the character’s own perspective. From the initial distortion and ringing in his ears at the onset of his hearing loss, to living in immediate silence and being unable to comprehend his housemates’ dinner conversations through signing. Becker’s sound work amazingly helps the viewer truly get into Ruben’s head and feel what he is going through. It is disappointing, however, that if not for the ongoing pandemic, one could imagine the super-immersive experience of seeing Marder’s film in a surround sound theater.

But, as previously mentioned, it is Ahmed and his exceptional performance that dials Sound of Metal up to eleven. Already having loads of screen presence and charisma, he easily slides into the skin of an indie rocker playing the grungy club scene. His toned and tatted-up torso and bleached blond hair notwithstanding, it is the emotional rollercoaster that Ahmed takes us on that is the real sight to behold. The fear, anger, and depression that Ruben initially goes through, as well as his trip towards redemption and self-fulfillment, are perfectly conveyed by his portrayer. Ahmed’s large and soulful eyes exude every feeling and could tell the protagonist’s story themselves. He also spent six months learning to play the drums as well as American Sign Language (ASL) for the role, so Ahmed’s commitment is never in doubt. This is a career-best showcase and he should rightfully come into consideration come award season.

Cooke (Bates Motel, Ready Player One) also more than holds her own as the loving and supportive Lou. We buy into the former’s relationship with Ruben, both on and off the stage because of their great chemistry, and the ingenue gets to show off her singing chops as well. Perhaps more surprising, though, is character actor/musician Raci as the enigmatic, no-nonsense Joe. The house leader challenges Ruben to get his mind in the right place, and to not focus on his deafness being a “disability” or as an excuse to stray from sobriety. A real-life CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) and former addict, Raci seems to present an extension of himself with Joe and his mesmerizing performance is all the better for it. The rest of the cast is rounded out by actual members and actors of the deaf community. Chelsea Lee offers a bit of humor as Ruben’s friend in the halfway house, and The Walking Dead’s Lauren Ridloff is tender and sweet as a teacher at a nearby school for the hearing impaired.

A spectacular debut from writer-director Darius Marder, Sound of Metal is one of the most well-made and unique movies of the year. Marder deserves kudos for beautifully shedding a new light on those living with hearing loss while not treating said subjects as an after-school special. Nicolas Becker’s sound design is impeccable and contributes to the experience, and the supporting cast is excellent all around. But it is the riveting and heart-breaking Riz Ahmed who elevates the film to unexpected heights, as the actor delivers a performance for the ages. In every aspect, Sound of Metal is a film that absolutely needs to be seen…and heard.

Sound of Metal is now available on Amazon Prime.

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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